Maisey Yates’ HPs have seen more misses than hits for Miss Bates lately. At the same time, Miss B. can’t resist the tantalizing possibility Yates will hit the heights of Pretender To The Throne and, with that hope, readily plunged into another one. Not much distinguishes Married For Amari’s Heir from the sordid premises marking the opening of many an HP. “Mark” is the operative word here. Assistant-in-crime to her con-artist father, heroine Charity Wyatt receives a commanding missive from Rocco Amari, summoning her to a club called The Mark. An upscale boutique shopping bag contains the tight-fitting sexy dress and lingerie she’s to wear to the rendez-vous. Party to her father’s theft of one of Rocco’s many millions, Charity knows she’ll comply with Rocco’s revenge to avoid jail time – despite her father absconding with the money, despite her fear and guilt over her part in it, despite her living hand-to-mouth as a waitress. Rocco’s merciless and she’s about to pay the piper with her virginity. Awful, isn’t it? Nevertheless, their love-making is cleverly handled by Yates, consensual and even tender. The encounter, though Rocco was all kinds of a dick post-love-making, leaves them shaken with intensity and meaning. Months elapse and neither have forgotten the other. When Charity discovers she’s pregnant (let it be said the HP may be the last bastion of miraculous conception), it’s an opportunity to turn her life around. Her destitute existence necessitates, for her baby’s sake, a plea for financial assistance to Rocco. When Rocco decides he wants to be father to the baby, he again holds jail time as a Damocles sword over Charity. Frankly, all the ludicrous, the blackmailing, the threats, near-led Miss Bates to DNF territory, but something about the characters touched her.
What makes Yates’ romance interesting to Miss Bates is the morally compromised hero and heroine. Charity’s a thief. Rocco’s a blackmailer. She’s dishonest. He’s vengeful. They should be thoroughly unappealing, but they’re not. There’s a gritty, tell-it-like-it-is honesty to Charity and an innocence to seemingly hard-hearted Rocco salvaging them from DNF dust. Yates adroitly steers her reader’s sympathy into letting Rocco and Charity into their hearts. She achieves this by a clever manipulation of backstory and tension in their relationship-of-convenience. Backstory can be pernicious in romance, an author trotting out angst to account for characters’ shoddy behaviour. In this case, Charity and Rocco’s actions are morally expedient, but they win at the sympathy stakes because they know they are morally compromised, they have damned good reasons when you look at what they were dealt, and they’re willing to change for their baby’s sake – and for each other.
In Married For Amari’s Heir, Yates understands that a person’s emotional resources often come from their parents and upbringing. Rocco and Charity’s stories, in this case, are sadly compelling. Rocco is a child of the social welfare system, the recipient of indifferent, adequate care, a lonely boy who determined never to live in deprivation. Before he was left in the hands of anonymous care-givers, Rocco was loved by his mother, who worked and scraped and humbled herself to give him a good life, love, comfort, and care. When she died on her way home from work, the loss, with its fear of abandonment, marked Rocco. Love is frightening to him because it means running the risk of losing what is most precious. He masks his woundedness with possessions, things announcing his privilege to the world. Charity, on the other hand, never experienced love, or care. Her mother left and her father, the con-artist, used her. Charity copes by donning masks, by wearing personas, but she understands there is something missing, her soul, her ability to empathize and connect with another. For both characters, their baby forces them to confront their moral weaknesses. Rocco draws on the example his mother set for selfless love and Charity, Charity is the truly interesting one, because she draws on the mystery of a conscience.
Rocco, in particular, is the one who doth protest too much. He ensures Charity has medical care and when she has her first appointment, he shows up. There, Yates creates a wonderful reckoning moment when Rocco hears the baby’s heartbeat. It’s a transformative moment for him; he reverts to type, of course, ordering Charity to Italy with him. He declares on various occasions: “I’m not burdened by conscience. Nor am I burdened by compassion,” “I don’t particularly care whether or not I acted with the highest moral standards,” and, finally, ” … I am keeping the child. And I am keeping you as well.” Charity rightly responds to his final statement with, “You can’t … keep me. What does that even mean? You cannot keep a person.” Rocco, of course, is driven to ensure his emotional security by making Charity and baby into possessions. Then, they cannot leave him; they cannot die. Like his mother did. Rocco’s morality has been compromised by his business dealings, Charity’s by the crimes she took part in with her father. But it is Rocco who has a longer road to travel to love, maybe because his world is larger, his actions more brutal and necessary in the world of business. And could it be that Charity is softened by impending motherhood? Her conscience is roused by the thought of Rocco as a boy, found by the authorities, lonely and frightened, when his mother, his emotional lodestone, doesn’t come home one night.
One of the pleasures of Married To Amari’s Heir is to read about Rocco and Charity’s moral awakening. It’s portrayed in their confessions about their childhood, families, and it’s achieved through empathy and understanding, light breaking through their personas’ cracks. Rocco says to Charity’s story of growing up with an absent mother and negligent father, “I know what it means to be alone. I know what it is like to feel lost.” Charity, in turn, considers Rocco’s childhood plight and this brings about a transformation, a discovery of her conscience: ” … if she started to think too deeply about what other people could feel when they discovered they had been cheated, she had to contend with her conscience … it was too easy to picture a lonely boy in an empty house. Because she had felt that too.” Rocco extends that same empathy to Charity: ” ‘It is a terrifying thing as a child. Being alone in that way. I am … sorry that you were alone. I know that feeling. It is … I avoid it at all costs now.’ She swallowed hard, an unexpected wave of emotion washing over her. ‘Thank you.’ ” When Charity is ill, Rocco brings her tea and holds her head and hair when she has morning sickness. He takes care of her because he remembers how his mother took care of him. When Charity quips: “If I died you wouldn’t have to deal with any of this. You wouldn’t have to face fatherhood.” Miss Bates loved Rocco’s response: “I have dealt with enough loss, thank you. I should like to keep you alive. And the baby.” Though Rocco’s mind and heart cling to their pragmatic, expedient morality, his actions bespeak love and care. Charity, as the recipient, is freed of her masks and fears and being so hungry for love after never receiving it, realizes she loves him. Rocco’s thoughts have to catch up with his actions. He has to learn that Charity cannot be counted amongst his possessions. Yates brings the novel full circle. Unlike many an HP author, she doesn’t, in this case, forget how this story started in revenge, blackmail, and coercion. How she brings that ’round to show revenge turn to mercy, blackmail to sacrifice, and coercion to setting free makes this as wonderful an HP as Miss Bates has read. Sadly, she doesn’t understand why the puerile epilogue, but there you have it. Another reason for mercy. Misses Austen and Bates say Married For Amari’s Heir is evidence of “a man lively and at ease,” Emma.
Maisey Yates’ Married For Amari’s Heir, published by Harlequin, was released on June 16th. It’s available for purchase at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.